Reclaiming "Last Christmas"
This image is a beautifully gift-wrapped lie.
This one is a more painfully accurate representation of the song yelled about below.
Hi, friends. It’s freezing out here in the mid-Atlantic, and I’m here today to warm all our souls by making a case for redeeming George Michael from the cheesy, winking celebrity limbo he's been in for so long and elevating him to his well-deserved status as a truly great pop-soul singer. The song I am choosing to bolster my argument is not the hugely problematic but also sonically perfect “Father Figure”, nor the justly iconic & devastating “Careless Whisper”, but everyone’s favorite (or least favorite, though if this is the case for you, I’m sorry, you are wrong, just stand there in your wrongness & be wrong) sadly beautiful modern holiday weepie, “Last Christmas.”
Please accept no substitutes. No Jimmy Eat World, no Taylor Swift, no Glee, no Carly Rae Jepsen (no, not even she!). These versions all have their hearts in the right place, and they demonstrate how justly beloved the song is, but they commit the cardinal sin of increased tempo. This is the wrong approach for a heartbreak song. You have to take your time with “Last Christmas”, and George Michael knows this. (Ditto “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. I maintain that the reason so many misguided souls out there consider it a portrait of date rape, and not the dance of mutual seduction it so plainly is, is that their only frame of reference is the too-fast versions performed by literally every performer pair other than Ray Charles & Betty Carter.)
People, he sells the hell out of this song. Listen to his his whispers (“Happy Christmas”), thrill to his dejected swoops (“you toooooooore me apaaa-aart”), clasp your hands to your bosom over his tortured croons (“you gaaaa-aave me awaaaaay!”). He got his heart cruelly stomped on last Christmas, and he’s turned this heartbreak into a spiritual exercise. Oh yes, he’s walked through the fire, and he fully intends not to be made a fool of again, thank you very much, by giving his heart, this time, finally, to someone special. Probably. Maybe. He’s psyching himself up, and maybe it won’t work out? Ugh, the way the song ends with an echoey, maybe triumphant, maybe dejected “someooooone” reminds me of the emotional devastation that Queen’s “Somebody to Love” always leaves in its wake. I really hope the George of both the song and real life has indeed found a real love & hasn’t been fooled again. Give yourself the gift of listening to this song with fresh ears. I dare you not to be moved. If you remain unmoved, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you.